WASHINGTON – The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is targeting Iraq’s oil fields as part of its plan to raise revenue and build its caliphate infrastructure.
The move makes it unlikely the ISIS would destroy the fields, unless the Iraqi military regroups and attempts to recapture them.
In addition to the oil and natural gas field in the Sunni-controlled region of Iraq, ISIS is about to capture the Balad Air Base just north of Baghdad where U.S. F-16s were slated to be based. ISIS is advancing on the Haditha Dam, which produces power and controls the flow of water to the south into the Shiite-controlled region of Iraq.
As a result of its blitzkrieg moves from Syria into Iraq in recent weeks, ISIS has virtual control over Iraq’s largest oil refinery, the Bayji facility in Salahaddin province. In Syria, the jihadist group has taken control of the Al Omar oil field in Deir al Zour province near the town of Al Mayadin.
The gains are in addition to its takeover of the Ajeel oil wells east of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. Along with the oil wells, ISIS has captured a natural gas field called Ajeel.
All of this has sources convinced ISIS is targeting Iraq’s oil infrastructure. If ISIS proceeds south, it then would be in a position to capture the oil fields in that region of the country as well as in Kuwait, both of which provide oil for the world economy.
For ISIS, these oil fields are revenue generators. In addition, control over the flow of water into the south puts additional pressure on the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
For these reasons, it’s likely ISIS won’t destroy the air base, oil wells or the Haditha Dam. That could change if the Iraqi military regroups and attempts to take back the facilities, but that appears unlikely for now.
ISIS sees all of the facilities as part of its grand plan not only to raise revenue but help in building a caliphate subject to strict Islamic, or Shariah, law.
The vision by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is to create an Islamic caliphate. It would stretch from the Mediterranean through Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq, which also includes the countries of Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and even Israel, an area once referred to as Greater Syria.
As ISIS takes control of the region, it can help ensure a following by using oil revenue to finance social programs and restore public services.
In many instances, ISIS has been able to get electricity and water resources functioning again in towns it now occupies and create a series of social programs to provide other essential needs for the population.
The ISIS targeting of the oil fields is reminiscent of the U.S. priority in 2003 to revitalize the oil industry for foreign investors once the Iraqi government was back in friendly hands. However, there were little or no plans for post-war reconstruction.
Indeed, the Bush administration had intentions of partitioning Iraq into three autonomous areas for Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites.
In 2002, however, the private U.S. intelligence firm Stratfor questioned the approach, predicting it would lead to a fracturing of the country.
“The new government’s attempts to establish control over all of Iraq may well lead to a civil war between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish ethnic groups. … The fiercest fighting could be expected for control over the oil facilities.”
This is precisely what is occurring today with the ISIS blitzkrieg across Iraq.
The U.S. strategy in developing the oil fields for future world sales, however, assumed U.S. troops would remain for generations as they did in Germany after World War II.
However, in less than 10 years, U.S. troops were removed from Iraq, creating a power vacuum that has brought the sectarian groups to what now amounts to a civil war.
In 2002, Stratfor predicted such an event if Iraq were split along sectarian lines.
“After eliminating Iraq as a sovereign state, there would be no fear that one day an anti-American government would come to power in Baghdad, as the capital would be in Amman (Jordan). Current and potential U.S. geopolitical foes Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria would be isolated from each other with big chunks of land between them under control of the pro-U.S. forces,” Stratfor said.
“Equally important, Washington would be able to justify its long-term and heavy military presence in the region as necessary for the defense of a young new state asking for U.S. protection – and to secure the stability of oil markets and supplies. That in turn would help the United States gain direct control of Iraqi oil and replace Saudi oil in case of conflict with Riyadh.”
Today, however, it is ISIS that controls the oil fields and could head into southern Iraq to take the country’s other oil and natural gas fields and threaten Saudi Arabia.
The prospect raises concern over who would control world oil production and its price – the markets, or ISIS.